Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Wonderful post from one of my favorite teachers, Wayne Muller

The Gentling Power of Our Presence

Two years ago when I was in New York City, my friend Sharon was also in town. We were friends who both lived in Santa Fe. But Sharon ran a company in the city, and she regularly commuted between New York and Santa Fe. We had never been in New York together at the same time, so we decided to indulge in a "power dinner" on her turf. We caught up, told stories, and shared an exquisite meal. We had a lovely New York evening.

The next night I got a desperate message at my hotel from Sharon's husband, Jim. I immediately called him, and he said Sharon was in the emergency room, in a New York hospital. His beloved wife, on the other side of the country, was alone in a strange place. There was no way he could get there soon, and I felt the ache in his heart. Would I would mind calling the hospital to find out how she was, maybe speak with her? he asked.

I said I would do no such thing - but I would catch a cab that would get me there in ten minutes. He protested that I didn't need to do that, but I insisted I would feel much worse if I didn't go. I wanted to see her in person, feel how she was, talk to those who were caring for her, and get a sense of her well-being. I told Jim I would call him back as soon as I knew anything. 

Sharon and I had been friends for years. Like Jim, I needed to be
with her. To see her, hear her voice, watch her eyes, stay close. Once in her company, I would know right away if she was doing well or badly. Was she truly in danger? Was she essentially all right? Or - the most likely option - whatever was happening, would Sharon keep it all a secret, showing her "I'm a strong woman who can handle anything" face to everyone around her.   
Sharon had left a meeting in mid-town Manhattan around 3pm. As she walked out of the building, she suddenly collapsed on the sidewalk, with no warning. Had she fainted? Was it a stroke, or worse? People carried her back into the building, called 911, and an ambulance rushed her uptown to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.  

In the taxi, I called the hospital. I spoke with Sharon, who insisted I not come see her. It wasn't necessary, it was too much trouble, she was fine, she didn't need help, Besides, they were just about to discharge her. It would be a waste of my time. An unnecessary  late night trip, taking me out of my way, for no good reason.  

Her protests reassured me. If she was feeling that feisty already, she was probably going to be OK.
I reached the E.R., which was noisy and crowded. I found Sharon, lying  down, attached to a machine that monitored her blood pressure, her pulse, her blood oxygen levels - all in real time. Every five minutes the machine posted her most recent numbers at the top of a list that scrolled down the screen.

I noted to myself that 30 minutes before I called, her blood pressure was 147 /117. After I called her, but before I arrived, her numbers had dropped to 132/105.

I sat in a chair a few feet away from where she lay in bed. Sharon was not a shy person. But I knew she felt tender, vulnerable. Exposed. I asked about her day, what she remembered, how she was feeling. I glanced at the monitor. Still hovering around 130/100.

I moved my chair a little closer. "Were you scared?" I asked.

She was quiet for a time. Sharon is not prone to public displays of emotion. She was not going to cry.

"Maybe," she offered, tentatively. "Maybe a little. But I feel like I was in a fog. It all happened so fast." 

We sat quietly. "Do they know why you fainted? Did they do any tests?"

"They think I was dehydrated. I probably hadn't had much water all day." It was one of those hot, humid summer days in New York. A punishing heat with no respite. Because New York is a walking city, most people are outdoors a good deal of the time. Sharon had not taken this into account. Anyway, she would have assumed she could tough it out.

"So, nothing else?"

"No, they say I just need to rest a while, and drink fluids. They have me hooked up to that thing." There was a water and a saline drip slowly adding water to her system.  
We spoke for a while about how it felt to be taken care of. We laughed about how she was likely a terrible patient. But today, so exhausted, she couldn't put up much of a fight. And, she admitted, the staff had all been very kind, thoughtful, attentive.

The monitor read 119/83 .

"Do you believe them? Do you think it was dehydration?" I imagined her thinking of something they missed, on the way back to her hotel, then whipping herself into a frenzy, for not being thorough, about how were unprofessional they were...

But something about the experience had softened her. Sharon was not an angry person. But she could be tough. Any woman in business in New York had to be tough. But she said, "No, they've been really good with me. I felt completely taken care of the whole time."

The monitor read: 108/60. This woman was as relaxed as any human being could be - in the middle of the night, in a crowded, noisy emergency room in New York City.

From the moment Sharon knew I was coming to see her, her blood pressure had begun to drop. In less than two hours' time, it dropped over forty points. With water, saline, and the restful company of a friend.

Jesus said that whenever two or more are gathered, something sacred, something healing is born in the community created by our being together. Some of the most beautiful moments in our lives only arise in the good company of another.

Solitude, as an intentional practice, can be a nourishing, healing discipline. But only in the company of good friends, family, loved ones, can we feel held, seen, known, or loved in ways that help us remember the best of who we are. When we feel truly seen and known, we feel whole.

After the nurse discharged her, I walked with Sharon to the corner. It was 2am. I hailed a cab, took her to her hotel, and once she was in her room, I felt it was time to go back downtown, to my own hotel, my own bed.

I had called Jim soon after I arrived at the hospital, assuring him she was going to be fine. I could feel the relief of all he had been holding, over the phone, 2000 miles away.

There are times when the simple, unhurried presence of someone who cares for us in the best possible medicine. Sharon's blood pressure dropped in large part because we were together.

I have no illusion that my presence has any special healing powers. Anyone who cared for her would have had the same effect. All alone, in the hospital emergency room, not knowing what was happening, not sure anyone knew where she was - or even who she was - her body felt a tremendous stress. But in the quiet company of someone who knew her, cared for her, loved her, she could feel her way back into the fullness, the strength, the beautiful healthy woman she was.     

At the height of the AIDS crisis, I was often at the bedside of young people who were dying. We had no medicine, no treatment, no hope. All we could offer was our presence. Over time, I learned that was more than enough. We could be good company, we could show up.

I learned then, and was reminded that night, of the teaching of the Buddha: "In isolation is the world's great misery."

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Great post from artist Nicholas Wilton about more than art

Can We See You?
By Nicholas Wilton

Are you ready to be seen? This seems like a pretty basic question but I am realizing that for many people the answer is not completely a yes. I am speaking of their Art, whatever that may be, but because your Art comes from you, it is actually quite a bit closer to home than your Art. It is actually about you.

It is a natural desire to want to bring more creativity into your life. I see this over and over again with people I meet. Most people are not able to drop into this arena as much as they would like in their lives. The tricky part about Creativity is that there is always something, be it a painting, a song, piece of sculpture, a manuscript—something that will be created. This thing will be outside of ourselves. It will be seen and then it will be judged by others. There in lies the fear.

The bigger our statement, the more daring we go with scale or audience, which in turn increases the potential for judgment. Just posting on Facebook, or putting up a website, potentially exposes you to thousands of people. This can be challenging. It is this reluctance – caused by fear – that can so easily stifle our creativity or block our dreams from materializing.

I get stuck in this place too. And then I remember this: the best work, the best art, the best writing, the best conversations all contain within them this element of vulnerability. It is almost as if good work of any kind should have at least a small amount of Fear associated with it. I believe that is what good work actually is…work that is born out of taking a risk, going a little further into the center of the stage, allowing your work and as a result, you, to be seen by others even if you are not sure.

My new trick I do on paintings that are turning out to be just mediocre is to do something bold, something unplanned, something irreverent, something that I do not know will work. I just totally wing it. This “deliberate mistake” in midstream can really bring something interesting to the work. We think struggle and unsureness are limitations but I see them more as fundamental building blocks to great work – of any kind. When we are nervously moving away from what we know, into uncharted areas, we expose ourselves. When we allow ourselves to be seen even when we don’t know the answer, then and only then do things get interesting, not just for us but for everyone else as well.

In regards to our work, simply stated, the more we can show of ourselves the more personal and different our work will appear. This is a crucial little idea that is at the heart of the only business plan I teach to creatives who are trying to expand their following. The idea being that work that is more like you will be more unique (because everyone is utterly different from everyone else!)  and if you are willing and brave enough to make work that feels like you, to really figure out what you love to make, then and only then will the outside world really start to take notice. The world, it turns out, craves things that are as different and unique as you. But first, you have to be willing to be seen.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Checking in on my Bright Line Eating progress

I've been doing the Bright Line Eating program since October 12. I've never stuck with a program for this long or with so much success. Here's some what I've gained.

  • I feel better than I have in decades.
  • I am peaceful and cheerful almost all the time. 
  • I feel truly sober.
  • I have abstained completely from sugars of any kind, flours of any kind, and snacks between meals. I have eaten a daily crapton of vegetables. 
  • I am generally compliant with weighing and measuring my food although I occasionally eat more fruit than allowed. 
  • I have a lot more stamina and enjoy working out at the gym.
  • I work 1-2 miles every day that I don't go to the gym. 
  • I have learned how to travel and eat this way. 
  • A new wardrobe 
  • I watch much less TV.

Here's some of what I've lost:

  • 80 pounds (the equivalent of a fifth-grader)
  • Having to take cholesterol medication
  • Worry and fears about my health
  • Concerns about fitting into chairs and seats on planes and in public places
  • Concerns about having to climb stairs
  • Pretending to be okay when I wasn't
  •  Chronic irritability
BLE is a powerful program. It's certainly working for me.  At the same time, I am not cured. I am a sugar and food addict, and the need to attend to that condition isn't going away. I'm okay with that.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Loving the app Grid Diary

While I was on writing retreat last month, my friend Tamara Sorelli introduced me to some of her favorite free apps for iPad. The one I'm really liking is called Grid Diary. You get a template of 8 boxes in a grid and you create questions you would want to answer every day for a structured diary. While they give you some good questions to use if you want (what are 3 good things that happened today or what did you get done today, for example), I'm finding it's really fun to make up my own questions, to inventory my life my way.

Here are my current questions:

  • What did I create?
  • When did I connect with others?
  • How did I connect with the Sacred?
  • What step did I take towards a goal?
  • How did I care for my health?
  • What did I enjoy?
  • What was I curious about?
  • What opportunity did I take to be generous?

What might your questions be?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Reading my wants every day

Once a month, I get together with a couple of friends and we talk about manifesting what we want. We start each meeting by writing out a list of things we currently want for ourselves, our families, our community, our world. We put down material things and spiritual things and political things. Last week we wrote out 50 things each. It was a very satisfying exercise.

Every day this month I'm committed to reading my 50 in the early morning and before bed. I'm curious to see if my feelings about them will change, if things will begin to manifest differently, if I will fall out of want with any of them. I'm curious to see if attending to them daily changes anything.

As I have a daily gratitude practice for what I already have, this seems like a nice counterpoint.

Here are a few things that are on my list (in no particular order):

1. Thousands of people read my blog.
2. My hips and legs are pain-free.
3. My apartment is easily affordable.
4. I have a fit and flexible body.
5. I take art workshops in wonderful places.
6. I am a confident swimmer.
7. All animals in the world are treated with kindness.
8. I have many wonderful opportunities to be in wild nature.
9. I live from curiosity and generosity.
10. I spend all my time in deep peacefulness.

What's on your list?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Mess or no mess, that's the challenge

It's been several weeks since my home studio has been ready to go, and I'm only using it a little. At first, I told myself this was because the weather has been so nice (we're having a miraculously cool summer so far). I've set up my pastel "horse" easel out on the terrace. Pastel is a dirty medium with colored dust everywhere and outside I can house down the terrace or sweep it up. (I'm actually painting with a bath mat below me to catch most of it.

However, I realized last week that this good weather is an excuse. When I had my studio down the street, I worked on a pastel most days and several acrylics. While those opportunities now lie in two different parts of my home, the distance from one to the other is not much further than in my old studio. So what's holding me back?

The very real possibility of making a mess. It was easy to make one in my studio at Troy Laundry. The floors had been trashed by earlier occupants. The walls too were years from a fresh coat of paint and full of scuff marks and nail holes. Just as important, everybody else's studio was old, worn, and crummy too. I felt completely free to do as I wanted. 

Now none of my friends would use the word fastidious to describe me. Nor would I use it on myself. But I like a tidy home and have embraced Marie Kondo's tidying up ideas with a whole heart. So while my studio is in a separate room and I can shut the door any time I want (although my cats don't like that), I still feel uneasy about making a mess.

This uneasiness is not rational. I bought a cheap (but nice-looking) rug for the floor that I can just throw away if need be. The walls can be repainted; and when I move, my landlord will remodel the apartment anyway (it's the only one in our complex that hasn't been remodeled). But I can't seem to tune out where I am--in my apartment--for where I am--in my studio. Maybe it's like getting a new car. We're apprehensive and careful until that first real ding or scratch. Maybe that's what needs to happen in the studio.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

All right, all right, I'll stretch

I've been suffering from the discomfort of sciatica, shooting pains down the leg. Mine shows up at night, when I'm trying to sleep. I've had it before but only briefly and it would disappear. It now seems to have moved in with me, so I found a physical therapist who's knowledgeable about this and went to see her. She asked me two questions right away. One surprised me and the other I didn't want to hear.

The first question was "how old is your bed." I couldn't give her an exact answer but my guess is pretty old. I bought a new mattress and springs in the first few years after I moved to Portland. Probably 1999 or so. She frowned, then went on to explain that the older we get, the more support our joints and spine need while we sleep. Get a new bed was her first prescription.

The second question was "tell me about your stretching program." I paused and then said, well, I yawn repeatedly morning and evening. I was joking but that's pretty much the extent of my stretching program. You can't be healthy and old without stretching, she said. I told her how inflexible I was, how painful most stretching regimens were for me. No mercy. All the more reason, she said. Your body needs it.

So now I have stretches to do every day. They haven't cured my sciatica yet (I want instant relief) but I am committed to my health and well-being and so I'm doing them. She's also teaching me how to get up and down off the floor, another essential. I'm not liking any of it but I'm committed.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The easy trap of resentment

A week ago I had dinner with a group of old friends to celebrate the birthdays of two of them. As gifts, I took each of the birthday women a small painting from the series I'm doing. As the paintings circulated around the table, one of the other women said, "Oh, these are just like the paintings of X. You know X. I love her work."

I felt immediately wounded by this remark. First, of course, my paintings aren't just like X's (whom I know, love, and respect) although they are small and they are in the realistic vein. More importantly, the comparison felt to me a diminshing of the specialness of my gift. Although no more was said about it at the table, I walked away with a bad feeling about myself and the woman who made the remark. In the days following, I could feel a resentment forming as the memory of the evening, which had been lovely in so many respects, seemed tainted now by my hurt.

In the wonderful way the universe sends us messages, this week I've been editing for a client who writes books on recovering from low self-esteem. One of the root causes is our belief that we know why other people say and do what they do. We believe that our interpretations of their words and actions are true when, in reality, we have no way to know why they say or do anything.

Resentment is an easy trap to fall into. My friend's remark touched a nerve in me (is my work original? is my work of any value? is there anything special about me?) that has been hard to shake. But I can see that my reaction is mine alone. I have no idea why she brought up X and her work. I know her well enough to know that she wouldn't deliberately hurt me. And while I can speculate as to her motivation, that's all it is, speculation. It isn't the truth.

My task is to let this go. To look at my insecurities. To deal with my responses. Not easy but at least they're under my control. And if my goal is peace of mind, I'll let go now, not later.